Which is London’s deepest tube station?

This is not a spoiler. Clapham Common is not that deep. You will have to read this to find out. Image: Diliff

Not all tube stations are born equal. 

Some, like Mill Hill East, are reached by soaring viaducts, carrying the tracks a reasonable 60ft above ground level: Dollis Brook Viaduct, which leads to the station, is the highest point on the London Underground. Others, like Westminster, harbour vast cavernous halls with escalators plunging ever further into the depths of London.

Given that it’s called the London Underground, the startling thing is that it’s not actually underground all that much. Only 40 per cent of is actually below ground, and only two lines – the Victoria and Waterloo & City – are entirely below ground.

Others, such as the Metropolitan and the District, only spend a relatively short proportion of their lifespan underground, with vast expanses stretching out into the west, north-west, and east of suburbia.

So, it begs the question. On the world’s oldest underground railway system, which station is the most… underground?

As ever on CityMetric, this very quickly denigrates into an argument about the terms of the question – so it makes sense to run through all the different possible answers.

Firstly, the answer nobody sensible would think to want: how far above sea level the entrance to the station is.

West Ham, which is not near Hampstead. Image: Richard Rogerson. 

By that measure, West Ham is the ‘deepest’, with the station entrance sitting just one metre above sea level (come friendly global warming, and raise sea levels on West Ham). This is something of a theme on the Jubilee Line Extension, as Bermondsey, North Greenwich and Canning Town all follow behind at two metres above level: no surprise, perhaps, given that trains struggle with steep gradients.

But onto more important things. If you take the average depth below sea level of all the platforms in each tube station – an important clarification – London Bridge comes out on top (bottom). Its platforms are, on average, 22 metres below sea level.

Highly candid shot of London Bridge's platforms. Image: Zverzia. 

On average, Southwark follows at 21 metres, Elephant & Castle at 18 metres, followed by Pimlico at 16 metres below sea level on average.

But seeing as some stations have very shallow platforms on lines like the District and Circle, alongside very deep platforms on lines like the Central – think of the annoyance of changing at Notting Hill Gate or King’s Cross St Pancras – the average depth in one station probably isn’t all that useful.

Which brings us to the deepest single platform.

The eastbound and westbound platforms of the Jubilee line at London Bridge make a good showing, with both coming in at 23.2m below sea level.

Southwark, just next door, makes an effort, but can’t really compete at 20.5m below sea level on its two Jubilee line platforms.

The majesty of Westminster. Image: Voyager.

Common knowledge, and Google search, has it that Westminster has the tube’s deepest platform – but according to TfL’s own figures that’s not the case.

While the westbound Jubilee Line platform at Westminster is very deep – at 25.4m below sea level – it’s beaten to the top (bottom) spot by Waterloo next door.


Both the eastbound at westbound Jubilee platforms at Waterloo are 26m below sea level – again, disclaimer, as per TfL’s own official figures – making them the deepest tube platforms on the network. If you want to nerd out at the whole data set, you can access it here.

But again, with conjecture being the order of the day – who really cares how far below the sea the tube is?

We’re Londoners, not softies of the South Coast. We don’t care about the sea. We haven’t seen the sea for years.

What we really want to know is how far below ground level the tube is – a question that renders a completely different result.

A historic shot of the deepest tube station. Image: Ben Brooksbank 

And with no ado about something, the answer there is Hampstead.

Because the northern line station there sits on the picturesque but thigh-aching Hampstead Hill, the tube platforms may not be that far below sea level but they are an awful long way below the ground.

The southbound platform is about 0.8m deeper than the northbound platform, according to TfL figures, but they’re both about 58.5m below ground level.

So there you have it. The more you know.

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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In many ways, smart cities are really very dumb

Rio de Janeiro’s control centre. Image: Getty.

It’s not news that anything and everything is increasingly being prefaced with “smart”: phones, watches, homes, fridges, and even water (yes, smartwater exists). And it’s not unintentional either. 

Marketeers know that we, the public, are often stupid enough to believe that thanks to their technology, life is better now than it was way back in, say, the primitive Nineties. Imagine having to, like a Neanderthal, remember how to spell words without an autocorrecting algorithm, or open the fridge door to check if you’d run out of milk, or, worse still, interact with actual people.

So it’s hardly surprising that we’re now also witnessing the rise of the so-called “smart cities”; a concept which presupposes that cities that are not technologically  “smart” are dumb, which, as anyone interested in the millennia-old history of cities — from the crypto-currency grain storage algorythms of ancient Mesopotamia to the complex waste infrastructure of ancient Rome, to London’s public transport infrastructure — will know, is not true.

Deployed in these smart cities are cameras and other networked information-gathering devices, load cells and other “sensing devices” detecting passing pedestrians and vehicles, audio surveillance devices listening for gunshots – and even vending machines equipped with biometric sensors to recognise your face. This is not to mention beacon technology — tiny anonymous looking black boxes hidden in trees and on lampposts — which transmits advertising, offers and other information directly to smart phones in the vicinity. 

If that doesn’t seem sinister enough, take, for example, Rio de Janeiro, where, in 2014, the International Business Machines Corporation designed a mammoth “control centre” that integrates data from 30 agencies for the city’s police. 

Described by the Guardian as having “the functionality of a Bond villian’s techno lair”, the then local mayor, Eduardo Paes, claimed the centre was making the city safer while using technology to deploy its “special” police unit to carry out the state’s “pacification programme”. Launched in 2008, the programme, which aims to push out drug gangs from Rio’s favelas, has been criticised by Amnesty International: “in January and February 2017 in Rio de Janeiro alone, at least 182 people were killed during police operations in marginalized neighbourhoods (favelas) – a 78 per cent increase in comparison to the same period in 2016”.

Sinister or not, as smart cities grow, they create new problems. For example, as urbanist Adam Greenfield writes in Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, neither the algorithms nor their designers are subject to the ordinary processes of democratic accountability – a problem that international academics are currently attempting to tackle.  


“We need to understand that the authorship of an algorithm intended to guide the distribution of civic resources is itself an inherently political act,” writes Greenfield. “The architects of the smart city have utterly failed to reckon with the reality of power.”

The Real Smart Cities project, founded by Dr Gerald Moore, Dr Noel Fitzpatrick and Professor Bernard Stiegler, is investigating the ways in which so-called “smart city” technologies present a threat to democracy and citizenship, and how digital tools might be used create new forms of community participation.

Fitzpatrick is critical of current discourses around smart cities, which he says “tend to be technical fixes, where technology is presented as a means to solve the problems of the city.” The philosophy underpinning the project is “that technologies function as forms of pharmacology”, he adds, meaning that they can be both positive and negative. “The addictive negative effects are being felt at an individual and collective level.” 

An example of this lies in the way that many of these smart cities replace human workers with disembodied voices — “Alexa we need more toilet roll” — like those used to control the Amazon Echo listening device — the high priestess of smart home. These disembodied voices travel at the speed of light to cavernous, so-called “fulfilment centres”, where an invisible workforce are called into action by our buy-it-now, one-click impulse commands; moving robotically down seemingly endless aisles of algorithmically organised products arranged according to purchase preferences the like of which we never knew we had — someone who buys a crime novel might be more likely to go on and buy cat food, a wireless router, a teapot and a screwdriver. 

Oh to be the archeologists of the future who while digging through mounds of silicon dust happen upon these vast repositories of disembodies voices. That the digital is inherently material and the binary of virtual/real does not hold — there is no cyberspace, just space. Space that is being increasingly populated by technologies that want to watch you, listen to you, get to know you and sense your presence.

One project looking to solve some of the problems of smart cities is that of the development of a “clinic of contribution” within Pleine Commune in greater Paris (an area where one in three live in poverty).This attempts to deal with issues of communication between parents and children where the widespread use of smartphones as parental devices from infancy is having effects on the attention of young children and on the communicative abilities between parents and children. 

This in turn forms part of a wider project in the area that Stiegler describes as “installing a true urban intelligence”, which moves beyond what he sees as the bankrupt idea of smart cities. The aim is to create a “contributory income” in the area that responds to the loss of salaried jobs due to automation and the growth and spread of digitisation. 

The idea being that an income could be paid to residents, on the condition that they perform a service to society. This, if you are unemployed, living in poverty and urban deprivation, sounds like quite a simple and smart idea to try and solve some of the dumb effcts of the digital technology that's implemented in cities under the ideology of being “smart”.